Monsanto Co. (MON)’s data security was breached at its Precision Planting unit, exposing employees and customers to potential misuse of credit card information and tax identification numbers.
Fewer than 1,300 farmer customers were affected by the breach, Christy Toedebusch, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis-based company, said in an e-mail yesterday. Monsanto discovered on March 27 that an outside party had accessed Precision Planting servers, the company said in a May 14 letter to the Office of the Attorney General in Maryland, where 14 state residents may have been affected.
The breach comes as Monsanto and competitors such as DuPont Co. (DD) begin to offer data services to help farmers boost yields with advice on issues such as seed spacing and chemical applications. The aggregation of farmers’ data by multinational agricultural companies is stirring concern about privacy and business risks.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, doesn’t believe the breach was an attempt to steal customer information, Toedebusch said. While the company isn’t aware of any misuse of the information, it notified affected customers and is offering them complimentary credit monitoring services for a year, she said.
Files on the affected servers included customer names, addresses, tax identification numbers and financial account information, as well as employee tax forms, according to the letter posted on the Maryland attorney general’s website. Monsanto has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for help with the breach, which has been contained, the letter said.
Meanwhile, the company is increasing security safeguards in an effort to prevent further breaches, Toedebusch said.
“While no system can be completely secure, we believe our new security protocols will provide significant protection for customers’ data,” she said.
Precision Planting, which Monsanto acquired in 2012 for $210 million, has never before experienced similar unauthorized access to its servers, Toedebusch said. Monsanto in November acquired Climate Corp. for $930 million to complement Precision Planting’s services.
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